Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

July 14, 2008


Host: Ted Simons

Maricopa County Attorney Debate


  • Democratic candidates for Maricopa County Attorney, Gerald Richard and Tim Nelson, debate issues related to prosecuting crime—how it's been done in the past and what needs to change.
Guests:
  • Gerald Richard - Candiate for Maricopa County Attorney
  • Tim Nelson - Candiate for Maricopa County Attorney
Category: Elections

View Transcript

>>Ted Simons:
Tonight on "Horizon," a debate between the two Democratic candidates who hope to replace this man as Maricopa County Attorney. And a conversation with this man former White House Press Secretary for Bill Clinton. He is Mike McCurry. He had to field all those Monica Lewinsky questions from the White House Press Corps. That's next on "Horizon."

>>Ted Simons:
Good evening, and thanks for joining us on "Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. We begin tonight with a debate between the Democratic candidates for Maricopa County Attorney. One of these gentlemen will survive the primary to run against Andrew Thomas and the Libertarian candidate Michael Kielski.

>>Ted Simons:
Gerald Richard was most recently the director of the Administrative Support Division for the Phoenix Police Department. His past experience includes stints in the Trial Bureau and the Organized Crime Unit of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office where he prosecuted a number of cases.

>>Ted Simons:
Tim Nelson served as general counsel to Governor Janet Napolitano and he was her special counsel when she was attorney general. Nelson was also the State's lead negotiator on the settlement with Arthur Anderson in the Baptist Foundation Investment Scandal. Thank you both, gentlemen, for joining us on Horizon. Good to have you here.

>>Gerald Richard:
Thank You Ted.

>>Tim Nelson:
Thank you. Good to be here.

>>Ted Simons:
Let's start with maybe the most important question of all. Gerald, why do you want to be county attorney?

>>Gerald Richard:
In order to save lives and save money. That's the reason I started to run this race. Primarily because when Andrew Thomas stopped preliminary hearings and everything went to grand jury, it meant that officers were going to grand jury another two and a half to four hours after a ten-hour shift. When you do that, you place the safety of our officers and our citizens in jeopardy. That was the straw that broke the camel's back for me.

>>Ted Simons:
Alright. Tim, why do you want to be county attorney?

>>Tim Nelson:
Because the current county attorney's values are so astray from what we need to have in Maricopa County. We need to put public safety first. And that's going to be my primary objective. We need to make sure that all of our decisions in terms of how we allocate resources are made with an eye toward the safety of Maricopa County citizens, and we're not wasting our public money or having the types of abuses of power we've seen under the incumbent.

>>Ted Simons:
What qualifies you to be a county attorney?

>>Tim Nelson:
I've been a practicing lawyer for the last 20 years. I've practiced at the highest levels at both the public and the private sector. I was Governor Janet Napolitano's general counsel for the past 5 years. I advised her on the major issues of the day including many issues related to public safety and issues that matter to Arizonans. I've also been with the attorney general's office, and have 12 years of experience with one of the biggest law firms in Phoenix, in the private sector as well.

>>Ted Simons:
Gerald what qualifies you to be county attorney?

>> Gerald Richard:
I'm the only candidate that's actually tried jury trials in the Maricopa County Attorney's office. I'm the only candidate that's tried gang cases to the point I had a contract out on my life. I am the only candidate with 15 years of administrative experience, as far as overseeing thousands of employees and over a 130 million dollar budget. I'm the only candidate with 22 years of experience, as far as not only fighting crime and going to crime scenes on the street, but taking it to the courtroom. My position is this. We need the right kind of experience, as far as the Maricopa County Attorney, to take out Andrew Thomas. This man has been incompetent, fiscally irresponsible, and lacks leadership. I have the leadership; I know how to be fiscally responsible. I promise you this based on my 22 years of law enforcement, I am competent to do the job.

>>Ted Simons:
What do you think the voters are looking for in a county attorney?

>> Gerald Richard:
What they should be looking for is this. That's the fourth requirements as far as the mission statement. One vigorous prosecution of crimes in the county. Second, to make sure we have an individual that is going to work with victims and witnesses. Third that we have an individual that is going to make sure that they are providing the proper legal advice. And fourth, crime reduction. Over the last 22 years I have prosecuted hundreds of cases in the county attorney's office. Over the last 22 years I have helped thousands of victims and witnesses. Over the last 22 years I have provided advice, specifically with regards to the four police chiefs for the Phoenix Police Department, the fifth largest city in the United States of America. And for the last 22 years I have worked on crime reduction for Maryvale to national policy board with gang resistance education of training program.

>>Ted Simons:
Tim, what do you think the voters are looking for? I ask the question because you are very well qualified, both of you. It matters as to what the voters want.

>>Tim Nelson:
They are looking for someone who is going to ensure that the public is kept safe. They want someone who will make sure that criminals are prosecuted and put away. Someone who's going to make sure we build the office we need to attract the best public servants, that we give them the best training possible for the job, and give them the tools and equipment they need to do justice in individual cases. They're also looking for someone who's not going to abuse his powers and do things that would infringe on their individual rights. That's not something we're getting out of the current county attorney.

>>Ted Simons:
Let's talk about how the county attorney deals with the sheriff. This particular relationship looks pretty tight. How would you deal with Sheriff Joe Arpaio?

>>Tim Nelson:
I've dealt with Sheriff Joe Arpaio in the past. We have worked together on some big tobacco enforcement matters. He's worked with Governor Napolitano, my former boss on many occasions. So it's possible to work well with the sheriff. What the sheriff is not getting right now is good legal advice. I'm going to make sure I put my 20 years of experience practicing law to give him the very best advice possible.

>>Ted Simons:
Do you think the sheriff, if you are county attorney, would say, I think your legal advice is much better than Andrew Thomas'?

>>Tim Nelson:
Well, I think he would indeed find it better, because it'll be probing legal advice. It may not be the advice he wants to get. I can't control whether he's going to follow that advice. But I'm going to make sure we have a county attorney who is not an enabler of the sheriff, but who's going to give him objective, good, competent legal advice.

>>Ted Simons:
How would you work with Sheriff Arpaio?

>>Gerald Richard:
Sheriff Joe Arpaio and I have worked in the past with regards to my experience over the training and employment services bureau with the Phoenix Police Department, making sure those individuals who do not meet the standards of the Phoenix Police Department, we referred them to the sheriff's office so that they could start a career in law enforcement. And Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his staff we've worked together on a number of different things including the rules committee for the Arizona Police Officers Standing Training Board. So one of the things I see, as far as working with Sheriff Joe, is tolet him know from the very beginning what the advice is, but just take it a step further. When there is something that is just inappropriate, to stand up to Sheriff Joe and let him know, this is not appropriate.

>>Ted Simons:
Does -- should the county attorney have a somewhat adversarial relationship, but not necessarily advise and consent relationship, with the sheriff?

>> Gerald Richard:
He should have an advise and consent relationship with the sheriff. That's one of the things I was talking about, as far as the mission statement. The legal advice and advice you provide as far as administrative issues, I have that kind of background in law enforcement to provide that type of legal advice. That's exactly why, as a county attorney, what is necessary is that you don't give him carte blanche, like Andrew Thomas has. You have to stand up and make those calls necessary in the best interests of Maricopa County, not just the relationship with the sheriff. You need to think about something. Back in February you had all of the different police chiefs, and I was standing there with them, saying we need to utilize our resources. The two who were not there were Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Andrew Thomas. That's why I am hoping Dan Saban is the sheriff.

>>Ted Simons:
Andrew Thomas' interpretation of immigration law, your thoughts?


>>Gerald Richard:
His interpretation of immigration law, I plan on using the resources to go after the 40,000 outstanding felony warrants. And by going after those 40,000 felony warrants, 20\% of repeat offenders commit 80\% of our crimes. And having worked with law enforcement agencies not only here in the Valley but also consulted in Cochise County for the county attorney's office and law enforcement agencies there, I understand the problem that we have, and we have to remove those individuals.

>>Ted Simons:
Quickly though, do you agree with Andrew Thomas's interpretation?

>>Gerald Richard:
As far as conspiring to smuggle yourself. The courts have to make a decision on that. I will still use those resources as county attorney to go after the violent criminals plaguing our community.

>>Ted Simons:
Do you think Andrew Thomas has it right, as far as interpretation of the immigration law?

>>Tim Nelson:
Legally, I think he's right. It would be a mistake to give that up as a tool in law enforcement. But the priority has got to be to go after these coyotes, these violent criminals who are working through organized crime syndicates to systematically import large numbers of unlawful immigrants. If we don't bust the coyotes and break up their organized crime rings, we're never going to make a serious dent in illegal immigration here. We need to be doing is using that type of interpretation to take the people, the individual smugglees, build up the case to go up higher into the organized crime network, so that we're breaking up the coyote rings.

>>Ted Simons:
A little shift here: the death penalty. Do you support the death penalty?

>>Tim Nelson:
I do, I do. It's absolutely appropriate in the most serious cases. Any time you are a prosecutor, you've got to look at the consequences of all of your decisions, including the financial consequences and the burdens that some of those decisions can place on the overall system of justice, so you don't have a situation where you're tying up the courts unnecessarily on one particular case. But there are clearly cases that are absolutely death penalty appropriate. And I won't hesitate to charge them.

>>Ted Simons:
Death penalty?

>>Gerald Richard:
I do believe in the death penalty. I believe it's necessary that we take a look at a case and do it on a case-by-case basis to make sure we have justice. Not only as far as making sure that individual pays for the crime they committed, but also listening to the victims. Find out what it is they want out of this, as well. For our system it's important that we explain to everyone that we're going to follow the laws, the county attorney, to the fullest. We have to work with every phase of the system, courts, law enforcement and the community, to reach that level of justice.

>>Ted Simons:
What is the biggest problem right now with the Maricopa County Attorney's office?

>>Gerald Richard:
Right now it's morale, based on the attorneys I've talked to, the deputy county attorneys, courageous attorneys who have told me if they knew that Andrew Thomas knew I was talking to you, I'd be fired. That is the biggest problem. From there, the policies. After that you have to make sure you go after those 40,000 outstanding felony warrants. I want to address elder abuse and the problems our seniors are going through, and to make our juvenile attorneys the most cherished in the county attorney's office.

>>Tim Nelson:
Gerald's right-morale is causing an exodus of good qualified lawyers, and we have to turn that around. The other major issue is fiscal responsibility. When Andrew Thomas took over, with a 900-person office we were spending about $5 million a year on outside counsel. That number has mushroomed to $16 million a year. And of that 11 million dollar increase, 80\% has gone to lawyers who contributed to his last campaign. So we have a public patronage system here that's not in the best interests of public safety.

>>Ted Simons:
I'll hold that one right there. It's a political position, the county attorney's office. How are you going to get your ideas over to the voters, to the public? Because that's part of the deal.

>>Tim Nelson:
I think we're going to do exactly what we're talking about here. We're going to talk about issues like fiscal responsibility and how much of our tax dollars are wasted. We're going to talk about how things like our criminal enforcement funds, Ricoh funds, are being diverted into these ad campaigns that promote Andrew Thomas himself and not being used to break up criminal syndicates, which is what they're intended to be used for. We've got to use those resources more effectively. We have to put public safety first. That's going to be my core message to voters.

>>Ted Simons:
I asked the question because Andrew Thomas has reasonably good approval ratings right now in Maricopa County. How are you going to sell yourself and your ideas?

>>Gerald Richard:
Well let me tell you, as a public servant for the last 22 years I'm going to sell it by getting the message across that we're here to save lives and save money. We want to do that by having professional prosecution over politics. And not the type of prosecution we've seen in Andrew Thomas' administration or by his billboard are pretty much his publicity stunts. We are going to go out make sure that we build those community relationships that I've already done with the Phoenix Police Department. And continue to make sure that they work with us as far as getting those criminals behind bars. Those individuals that are constantly causing havoc on our criminal justice system and our communities.

>>Ted Simons:
Before we get to final closing statements, why would you be a better county attorney than this gentleman?

>>Gerald Richard:
I have the type experience necessary to be the Maricopa County Aattorney. As a former deputy county attorney, as an administrator of the law enforcement community, as a consensus builder with the courts, the community, and law enforcement.

>>Ted Simons:
Why would you be better than him?

>>Tim Nelson:
I've got the more important and relevant experience. I've been 20 years been practicing law at the highest levels, and I was chosen by Governor Janet Napolitano of all of the hundreds of lawyers to be her general counsel. I have experience at the private sector level, the public sector level, both in the attorney general's office and other levels of government. I've managed more lawyers throughout the course of my career, which is exactly what the county attorney does in an office of that size. I've got more relevant experience.

>>Ted Simons:
Alright. Let's get to the closing statements. You each have 60 seconds for your closing statements. Tim, you're first.

>>Tim Nelson:
Thank you, Ted, and thank you all for tuning in tonight. This is a very important election. If you agree that we have to replace Andrew Thomas as our face of justice here in Maricopa County, then you have an important decision to make in September. I submit we need to elect the lawyer best capable of beating Andrew Thomas, the one with the most experience and the most endorsements, and the one bringing the most resources to bear in this case. I've been endorsed by Governor Napolitano, by Congressman Harry Mitchell, by the Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs. I've out-raised Andrew Thomas by a 5 to 1 margin over the course of the last funding-raising period. I have caught him in terms of cash on hand. I've got the kind of resources and backing necessary to beat Andrew Thomas in November. That's the most important issue in terms of what we're going to do as Democrats in this primary.

>> Ted Simons:
All right. Gerald.

>>Tim Nelson:
Thank you very much.

>>Ted Simons.
You bet. Gerald, closing statement.

>>Gerald Richard:
I sincerely appreciate it. I want to thank you for tuning in and I sincerely hope you go out September 2nd and vote. And if you are an early ballot voter, please vote there. I have endorsements not only from Democrats but I am looking beyond the primary. I have Republicans who are supporting me, as far as this candidacy is concerned. Former U.S. Attorney for Arizona Paul Charlton, as well as the former Director of Public Safety Dennis Garrett. I have former mayor Paul Johnson of the city of Phoenix has also sent his support. What's also interesting is that the governor, on two separate occasions, has made it clear. Upon winning the primary, Gerald, you have my support, as well as 22 years of law enforcement experience, fighting crime from the streets to the courtroom. That's exactly what we need, as far as the type of experience necessary to do this. I have been an administrator. I have overseen budgets and thousands of employees. I know what it takes in order to be Maricopa County Attorney. Vote.

>>Ted Simons:
Alright. Very good. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us on Horizon. Great debate.

>>Ted Simons:
The Maricopa County Democratic Party will sponsor a debate between these same two Democratic candidates for Maricopa County Attorney, Tim Nelson and Gerald Richard. The League of Women Voters will moderate the debate. It will be held in the Central High School auditorium Tuesday, July 29th at 7:00 p.m.

>>Ted Simons:
Over the weekend, Tony Snow, Press Secretary of George W. Bush died of cancer. He brought unique talents to the job, engaging in what some would call showmanship as he often sparred with reporters. The job of Press Secretary is not an easy one and few experienced the difficulty like Mike McCurry. He was in the Valley recently for Project Civil Discourse a program of the Arizona Humanities Council. Larry Lemmons caught up with Mike McCurry before his presentation.

>>Larry Lemmons:
Well, I'd like to talk about your tenure as the White House Press Secretary for President Bill Clinton.

>>Mike McCurry:
A zesty and interesting time.

>>Larry Lemmons:
You know we've seen many times the spokespeople in front of the White House Press Corps. It seems sometimes it's a very adversarial kind of relationship.

>>Mike McCurry:
Oh, yeah.

>>Larry Lemmons:
What were some of the high points and low points?

>>Mike McCurry:
I had a great time. I'm mostly remembered for the year of the affair with Monica Lewinsky. My last year as White House Press Secretary. I had four great years there, and interestingly, two years as spokesman at the U.S. State Department, in some ways more challenging because you can create a real diplomatic incident if you screw up at that place. But I enjoyed the give and take. I kept in my head that really it was about Bill Clinton. People didn't care what my point of view was on things. I tried to reflect his point of view, but I tried to remember, it was about the American people trying to figure out what's going on. There's so much spin in our political dialogue that sometimes people are just hungry for raw facts. We tried to bring people into the press briefing room who knew something about subjects. We found experts on various subjects and brought them in. I think the press really appreciated that. We made it a little entertaining from time to time. Humor goes a long way sometimes in these encounters. But I think at the end I felt pretty comfortable that, even though we dealt with some pretty wretchedly hard stuff to talk about on family television, we still, at the same time, came away with people thinking they were getting a straight story. I think that was very, very important. Of course, what undermined a lot of that, and Bill Clinton was the first to acknowledge it and then apologize for it, when his own personal behavior became an issue and he wasn't straight with the American people about it, he paid a huge price. In our adversarial relationship with the press, we didn't dig the hole deeper. Because we stayed away from things that we weren't positive sure what the facts were.

>>Larry Lemmons:
But you said, give people something other than spin. Isn't that what spokespeople for politicians do, they spin?

>>Mike McCurry:
Let's put it a little more gently than that. Spin, for most people, they think someone's coming along trying to con you out of truth, that they really aren't confronting what the facts are. In my world, spin sometimes meant look, there are 10 different things that we could talk about today that are making news. Here's what the White House and what the president would really try to make news today, so we'd try to build up interest in the thing that we think matters the most.

>>Larry Lemmons:
Redirect it as it were.

>>Mike McCurry:
Yeah, but not take them from the truth, just the truth of what we wanted to talk about that day. What goes with that is being open, accessible, transparent about a lot of other subjects, too. We tried to get the balance in the Clinton White House between those imperatives. Because the press has a job to do for the American public too. Just like the president and the president's staff believe they work for the American people.

>>Larry Lemmons:
Do you think Bill Clinton got a tougher deal with the White House Press Corps than George W. Bush did afterwards?

>>Mike McCurry:
It's interesting. On balance, yes. I think Bill Clinton got pretty rough treatment.

>>Larry Lemmons:
Why do you suppose that is?

>>Mike McCurry:
Part of it is culture, partly because he tried to change many things. People resented how effortless it was for him to navigate his way through a lot of these difficult scandals and controversies. I think that's part of it. Also that he was the first of the baby boom generation, and so many of the reporters themselves were of that age. It's like; we're going to give this guy running for student body president a hard time. There was a little bit of peer envy in the relationship, I think. And of course, the primary difference between Bill Clinton and George Bush, our current president, is that George Bush had to deal with the aftermath of 9/11, take the country into a war on terror and prosecute it. That defined everything about his relationship with the press. It made it easier for him to communicate initially. But as things have not gone well, it's made it harder and harder. The press probably treats him worse now than they ever treated Bill Clinton when he was in office.

>>Larry Lemmons:
You are here in Arizona to talk about Project Civil Discourse. Tell me what that's about Why it's important.

>>Mike McCurry:
The Arizona Humanities Council came up with a great idea which is it's time to set aside some of the bitterness and division that really characterizes a lot of our debates. I'll be talking a little more about how that plays out on the national scene. There's been some pretty divided debate here in Arizona on various subjects, immigration being an obvious one. Better spirits can prevail. The goal Project Civil Discourse is to bring people together and see if we can't lower the volume a little bit, and have people really listen to each other, if they're from different points of view or walks of life. Maybe we can make progress on issues. We really need that in our political system. I'm a creature of Washington, D.C. It couldn't be any worse than it's been in Washington, as far as having a divided, bitter political culture. It's time to do something about that. I commend everyone down here in Arizona who says, we're going to take a stab at making it better.

>>Larry Lemmons:
I've heard stories, anecdotally, of how politicians in the past used to fight on the floor and go off and have a drink later and work some things out. These days I suppose there are fewer politicians willing to compromise, it makes that discourse much more difficult.

>>Mike McCurry:
We are probably at a point or have been at a point where we have never been so bitterly divided in a partisan way. The partisan fault lines run very, very deep, especially back in Washington, D.C. I think you're right, part of the reason is there aren't personal relationships, people who reach across the aisle and say, let's go have a beer and let's talk about ways we might compromise. That kind of socialization doesn't exist. Why because these poor elected officials run from one fund-raiser to another the cost of campaigning has gone up. The opportunity to really be with your colleagues, at least in Washington, doesn't present itself. Because people are always going home to campaign for the next election. I think trying to create some safe spaces, some safe sanctuary where people can have dialogue, is very, very important, and I hope that's what Project Civil Discourse achieves.

>>Larry Lemmons:
I'd like to ask you your opinion about the current struggle between Barack Obama and John McCain. What do you think is happening?

>>Mike McCurry:
Senator Obama, again, against a very formidable Republican nominee. When I worked here in the 1980's for Bruce Babbitt, I had a chance to meet Senator McCain and get to know him a bit. If the Republicans were trying to pick someone, at a time when their incumbent president is not very popular and their party is really taking a beating, they picked someone who's going to be a very good standard-bearer for them. It's going to be a very close hard fought election. Part of the real issue will be are we at a point where most want to see a fundamental change in the direction this country is going? If they do, I think Senator Obama will do quite well. If they don't want too much change, then I think Senator John McCain is going to be a safer place for those voters. I'm a Democrat, so you know how I think it's going to turn out. I think it's going to be a very important and very good election. Obama and McCain are capable of giving us a presidential campaign that rises to this level most Americans want to see their politicians debate at.

>>Larry Lemmons:
Mike McCurry, thanks for joining us, for talking to "Horizon."

>>Mike McCurry:
Thanks for having me on.

>>Ted Simons:
Tomorrow on "Horizon," the Maricopa County Sheriff's Illegal Immigration Interdiction Unit continues its operations throughout the county. Sheriff Joe Arpaio joins "Horizon" to talk about that and other issues. That is Tuesday at 7:00 on "Horizon." That's it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

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